Doug Benerofe is a fiction writer and high school English teacher. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California, near his home in San Francisco. Doug won 2nd place in the Narrative Magazine 2014 writing contest and has published short stories in several other literary journals. He has been reading Carve since 2005.
How did you hear about Carve?
From John Henry Fleming. John is a novelist and he just published a collection of short stories. He was my professor and thesis advisor in graduate school. I continue to read Carve because it publishes good material.
What Carve short story stands out in your mind?
“The Gymnast” by Jennifer Harvey. Kafka has a story called “First Sorrow.” It’s an allegorical story about a high-wire performer that can be applied to artists in general, which is a theme Kafka explores in many of his stories. “The Gymnast” pulled me in on this level. The narrator’s ambitions as a gymnast worked on both a literal and metaphorical level. I also liked what the writer did with few words, short paragraphs, and short descriptions to move the story forward. It felt very personal, like the narrator was a real person.
What are your favorite books to teach to your high school English students?
I taught the nonfiction book Columbine by Dave Cullen to 11th graders last year. It went amazingly well. The students were fascinated by the book and we had many great class discussions. I love teaching anything by Shakespeare. My favorite plays to teach are Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Merchant of Venice. The class is usually very challenged by the material but also very engaged. The Shakespeare tragedies seem to go better in the classroom than the Shakespeare comedies.
I also love teaching To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. As a teacher, I can do so much with those books, and the students seem to regard them as worthwhile classics. I also love teaching the play Fences by August Wilson, and the students seem to relate to the conflict-oriented father/son relationship in that story.
Do you ever have your students read stories from literary magazines?
I do. Junot Diaz is one writer who appears in journals and magazines who the students seem to enjoy reading. Jhumpa Lahiri is another.
In your opinion, how has technology and the internet changed the teaching of English and literature?
I believe a teacher can utilize technology to add a positive educational layer into the classroom. Each year, I have students research poets online. I also have students complete what I call a web quest, in which they go online and find additional information about a book. For example, for The Catcher in the Rye, students find maps of New York City and photos of places in the book, like Grand Central Station. Teenagers seem happy to go online, and so I can tap into that energy and create projects and tasks to utilize this type of independent learning.
I hear a lot of people say that because of the Internet and social media, teenagers today have less patience and shorter attention spans when it comes to reading and literature. Do you think this is true?
I still believe in the power of literature. I read Columbine with a tech-savvy, media savvy group of seventeen-year-olds. These students could read two chapters of a very intense book and then go on Youtube and watch actual footage of the tragic events at Columbine high school in 1999. Some of the students were watching documentaries and news footage about Columbine in their own time.
This is a very educated population of teenagers. The fact that they are tech savvy makes them better readers, and potentially more-informed students. Some YA writers like John Greene and Laurie Halse Anderson are popular because they tap into a readership of young people who are able to access a lot of information and have been exposed to a lot. It’s true that the average student has a smart phone in their pocket. But I also believe that a good English teacher can motivate and inspire students to become good readers and independent learners, and to appreciate a good book.
What three books or short stories do you think every high school student should have read by the time they graduate?
If I had to pick three, I might pick a classic play (probably something by Shakespeare), a classic novel (probably To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby or Orwell’s 1984) and classic poetry of Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou or Langston Hughes.